Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
–Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953
By now, we’ve had some time to lick our wounds and digest the political events of the last seven days. To some, it came as a shock, living as we do in our information bubbles and among our likeminded friends. To some, it was a grim expectation, something they hoped wouldn’t happen but feared would. And still others take joy in having been heard, perhaps for the first time in years, as they hurled Donald Trump into Washington like a Crazy Ivan, a desperation-induced move that might burn everything down, but at least their enemies would hurt as much as they do, and they’re used to hurting.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
And nothin’ left was all she left to me
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues
And buddy, that was good enough for me
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee
The progress that was made for GLBT+ folks, the environment, those previously without health care, and other worthy causes over the last eight years is almost certain to be swept into the refuse bin over the coming months as Trump and his Republican-led Congress stretch their muscles and get to work on the pro-plutocracy agenda that the Right has been dreaming about, ever since Obama took the oath of office. The voters’ rage against their own interests has been stoked by cable news, moneyed interests, and even Macedonian teenagers, but none of that matters now. The complacent Left has likely been cratered back to the Bush administration, but just like the pro-Trump working-class voters that decided to burn the place down and start over, we’ve hurt before, too. Having to fight all over again for our progress is a setback, but we can turn our rage against the system now, just as well as can our ideological opposition. Now, we have nothing to lose, either.
So, where do we start? Bernie Sanders’ statement following the election sets the perfect tone, to wit:
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.
“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
Democrats must remember their working class roots. Much of Middle America’s rage against the Left has come from the feeling of never getting ahead, no matter how hard they try. It’s a feeling that the Democrats should remember well. Trump’s policies of deregulation and tax cuts for the rich are doomed to fail and screw Middle America; when they realize they voted in a con man, we need to be there with empathy and real policy answers for their situation, not condescending sneers. And more importantly, we have to connect with the heart and gut instead of being numbers-based policy wonks. Stories are what win the heart and gut, and this election was about a charismatic leader speaking to the feelings of his base, versus a candidate who seemed cold and aloof, bedeviled by trumped-up scandals, and who lowered herself to have a dirty fight with a pig (which, of course, the pig enjoyed). And still, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote! Democrats who hope to regain ground need to learn to throw less mud and give hope instead, especially in the smaller and more rural states towards which the electoral college is skewed. This, and getting out the youth vote, are what helped Obama win two terms by convincing crucial swing states that he was the right one for the job.
The next two years are going to be painful for us all. But the good news is that it can be two years, not four, if we vote in a 2018 Congress that can rage against Trump’s destructive agenda while fighting hard for legislation that will benefit everyone, from gay couples in San Francisco to displaced coal miners in Appalachia. We’re a diverse nation, but we have to learn how to make that into the strength that has been the Democratic talking point for ages, rather than letting it be the liability that Conservatives came out in droves to repudiate with divisive talk and racist, sexist rhetoric.
On an individual basis, we have to realize that we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately, as Ben Franklin said. This is true not just politically, but in our everyday lives. Some groups will suffer through a Trump administration more painfully than others, and since the cavalry isn’t yet on the way, we must be the cavalry. It’s hard to share with others when a lot of us are living on the margins ourselves, but this might be the difference between all of our friends making it through, and leaving some of our own behind. The author suggests, in no particular order:
EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center)
The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis help and suicide prevention services for LGBT+ youth.
Lambda Legal, “the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.”
CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)
Earthjustice, “because the Earth needs a good lawyer.”
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a non-profit that advocates for small and family farms.
Appalachian Voices, an organization that works towards a cleaner environment and new economic opportunities for people in coal country.
And NPR, an important media outlet that was one of the few that I saw approach the election in an even-handed way, interviewing people from all sides and many different opinions. As Michael Oreskes, NPR’s News Chief, explains, “facts exist and they matter.” Good journalism will be crucial in the times ahead.
Finally, take some time to yourself. Fighting the good fight takes energy. Rage against the dying of the light, but remember to get enough sleep and eat nutritious food. Seek out support from (and give support to!) your likeminded fellows, but try not to live in an echo chamber. Let’s show them, not just tell them, that we are Stronger Together.